A Pastor Prays

This morning's musing is a prayer from Dr. Wendell Hawley's book A Pastor Prays for His People (used by permission of the author, and his book is available in the Church Bookstall). Wendell's prayer is appropriate for the start of a new year and every month that follows.

Prayer Number Two

God of all grace, God of my salvation,
I praise you because you are the same yesterday, today, and forever.
You never grow old; you are not impoverished, enfeebled, forgetful;
     your faithfulness continues to each generation—
        more enduring than the earth itself.
And yet, wonder of wonders, you have entered into our existence,
for the eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
And because of that, Jesus knows all about life's struggles.

We thank you, Father God, that Jesus had to earn a living.
    He did a day's work like any working person;
     he had to face the wearying routine of everday work,
         work that sometimes becomes a chore . . . a struggle.
He knew the frustration and irritation of serving the public . . .
    some people are never pleased.
Jesus knew the problems of living together in a family.
He knew what it was like to have unbelieving relatives.
And he knew the reality of temptation and the attacks of Satan.

We thank you, Father God, that Jesus shared in happy social
        occasions . . .
    that he was at ease at weddings, and at dinner parties,
    and at festivals in the homes of the rich and the poor . . .
        and people just like us . . .
Grant, Father, that we may ever remember that in his unseen, risen presence,
     he is a guest in our homes and a listener to every conversation.
We thank you that Jesus knew the meaning of friendship,
    that he had his own circle of friends with whom he wanted to be;
    that he knew how to catch fish and how to prepare a meal;
    and that he was there, standing alongside loved ones, when they
        needed him most.

He also knew what it was like to be disappointed by a friend,
    to suffer disloyalty,
    to have love repaid by rejection.
He experienced unfair criticism,
    prejudiced opposition,
    deliberate misunderstanding.
He was lied about and abandoned—he knew what it was like
        to be alone.
We thank you, Father, that whatever circumstances we face,
Jesus has been there before.
    Because he faced all of the same testings we do,
        he is able to help those who are going through them.
    Touched with the feeling of our infirmities, he knows our frame;
        he remembers that we are dust,
    Therefore, we come boldly to the throne of grace,
    that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in every time of need.

Lord, we are a needy people . . . in need of your assurances.
As we hide your Word away in our hearts,
    make every promise real to us this year.
Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing causes them to stumble.

And so, sovereign Lord, as we face the New Year,
we do so in the confidence that you are with us in the midst of every
        situation:
    sickness or health;
    empty purses or stretched dollars:
    business losses or economic gains:
    family disruption or family delights.
Whatever, Lord, we are yours!

Amen

Scripture quoted from Hebrews 13:8; Psalm 100:5, NLT; John 1:14; Hebrews 4:15, NLT; Hebrews 4:15, KJV; Psalm 103:14; Hebrews 4:16; Psalm 119:165. 

Within the Clouds by John Maust

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One thing I miss about Miami is the clouds. In the 10 years our family lived in Florida, I came to love the cottony, billowing clouds that towered above the ocean or that fled across the sky on warm evenings, bathed in blues and purples after the sunset. The light fluffy pillows seemed so low you could almost touch them.

Yet I also encountered a different kind of cloud in our time there—a problem in my work that caused much inner turmoil, tension and confusion.

For one of the few times in my life, I had trouble sleeping.  In a continuous loop, my mind replayed all the scenarios and issues of the situation.  Everything about it seemed wrong and unfair.  Why was God allowing this to happen?  What was he going to do about it?  What was he trying to tell me?

In the darkened bedroom, I would lie awake at nights listening to worship music, trying to pray, waiting for sleep to come. Then one night a particular song caught my attention. The lyrics described a person struggling to find God in a hard situation, finally to realize that “sometimes He comes in the clouds.  Sometimes His face cannot be found. Sometimes the sky is dark and gray.”

The Steven Curtis Chapman song seemed to capture my feelings completely, and then offered hope:  “Sometimes our faith can only grow, when we can’t see, so sometimes He comes in the clouds.”

Hmm . . . I’d never thought of my work-related problem as a “cloud” through which God could speak and increase my faith. 

Soon after I began reading the classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. One of the first entries that I read began, “In the Bible clouds are always associated with God. Clouds are the sorrows, sufferings or providential circumstances, within or without our personal lives, which actually seem to contradict the sovereignty of God. Yet it is through these very clouds that the Spirit of God is teaching us how to walk by faith.”

Clouds again! Dark experiences of our lives could actually be an opportunity for God to work in power in our lives, if only we will allow hm.

Out of curiosity, I took out a concordance and began referencing the different Scripture passages where the word, cloud, appeared.

Passages in Exodus (13:21-22, 19:16, 24:15, 34:5, 40:34-35) and the New Testament (particularly the Transfiguration story) showed how God sometimes manifested his presence in a cloud and in fact spoke from within the cloud.  

While my problem at work had become a cloud obscuring my vision, I realized that God was indeed speaking to me from within it—through his Word, through the counsel of friends, through the very need to stop and try to understand what he was saying through this situation.

Just as a blind person develops a more acute sense of hearing, the good thing about a cloud is that it sharpens our sense of spiritual listening.

Looking back, I see how God used the problem at work to draw me closer to him and ultimately to lead me into an exciting new area of ministry in which I’ve served for more than 20 years.  

And I do still miss those gorgeous clouds on a warm evening in Miami, especially on sub-zero days in wintry Wheaton.

A List of Highlights from 2017

There have been many wonderful contributions this year’s OneWord Journal. I offer a few highlights—art, poetry, music and writing. Enjoy.

Sean Shimmel’s  contribution to February’s “hope” gave us a glimpse of the quiet power of a mother and child--Forget (never)

Pat Cirrincione’s riff on hope after the Cubs won it all.

ChurchFolk’s Easter song works any time of year.

Speaking of Easter, Lorraine Triggs’s “Saturation Point,” gave us layers of beauty and darkness to consider.

Nancy Tally recalled a frightening and miraculous night where she saw “Jehovah Sabaoth The Lord of Hosts is Our Protector.”

He was only ten years old when he gave us these “Moonlight Lillies,” but I love Nathanael William’s contribution this year:

Lois Krogh’s “the Hidden Work of Beauty” considers reservoirs of truth in the shortened life of a dear friend.

Rachel Rim’s “The Great Homesickness” is a memory piece than manages to look back and ahead at the same time.

Alight--Dan Haase’s “tremble” contribution in July flutters still with wonder.

A good way to end--Marr Miller's video and Wes Bleed reading Psalm 8.

 

A Pink Birthday Cake at Christmas by Laurie Eve Loftin

When Mom’s side of the family gathered for Christmas, I would drive up north of Rockford to celebrate with them. Whenever I asked my aunts what I could bring, they always said, “Just bring yourself.” Nevertheless, one year, I decided to bring a cake. I had ordered one—a red velvet cake (originally called the Waldorf Astoria cake because of its origin in the 1920s). Little did I know the significance this cake would bring to that Christmas!

My cousin’s son, who was very small—about two–years–old if I remember right—had been praying for weeks that we could have “a pink birthday cake for Jesus.” The adults told him they were serving only pies, but he insisted there would be a pink cake, and we would all sing “Happy Birthday to Jesus."

When I arrived, the little guy greeted me at the door with the news that we would sing and eat a pink cake. Behind him, I could see a couple of the adults giving me the nix sign and mouthing, “pies, just pies.” However, while scrambling out of my coat and opening my packages, I said, “We will have a cake, but it will be red. I ordered it special to bring with me.” He was not deterred. He had prayed for a pink birthday cake for Jesus, and just seeing a cake was enough to boost his confidence.

After dinner (which, for some reason—maybe the cold weather—we ate in the “old kitchen” in the basement of my aunt and uncle’s house), I brought out the cake. Once more, the adults tried to convince the youngest among us that it would be a dark red, but he could enjoy it anyway. So we sang “Happy Birthday to Jesus.” Grandma blew out the candles and I put the cake down to cut it.

Do you know that cake was PINK! I don’t know what happened at the bakery, because it tasted just fine. But there it was: a pink birthday cake for Jesus, in answer to a little boy’s prayer of faith and celebration.

Thank you, Lord, for that wonderful gift.

My grandmother, my aunt, and this season, my uncle are no longer celebrating with us here on earth. So I dedicate this story to them this Christmas in gratitude and joy.

Checking It Twice by Nancy Tally

Old Santa—as we have been told since we were young—is making a list and checking it twice.

This time of year, I have multitudes of lists:

My “Who” list: people I want to remember, thank, encourage, honor or surprise,

Decorating list,

Gift shopping list,

Gift making list,

Shipping/mailing list,

Cyber Monday tracking list,

Menu lists,

Events to attend list,

Cookie lists,

Grocery list,

Housekeeping/laundry lists,

Medical daily info list,

Reading list,

Song lists,

Honey-do list,

Give attention to each family member list.

This is a good time of year to hone my juggling skills.

As I rechecked one list I realized, “oh, no” I forgot to order the present for my youngest grandchild. Good thing I checked early.

It’s also time to be wary that the “tyranny of the urgent” does not choke out my awareness of God’s lists.

How is my armor doing? Is it as bright and shiny as the tinsel and lights I hung? Am I renewing my armor daily with the polish of God’s Words?

I wish I could transcribe all of Ephesians 3—6 and all the lists these four chapters contain.

•Paul’s prayer list for our spiritual growth, and his request for humbleness gentleness patience and unity that we might function as one body.

•Paul’s list of God’s gifts to the church.

•Multiple “naughty lists” of things we should eliminate.

•Multiple “nice lists” of things to replace the naughty items.   

•Paul’s lists for family and work interactions.

•Then finally his list of the armor of God.

Looking at just these four chapters or thinking about Peter’s writings or even the opening chapter of Matthew’s gospel, God is not above using lists to help us see what must be done or understood.

So, have at it. Recheck those lists of yours and remember to recheck those lists God gave us.

Oh, don’t forget the fruit list!

Best Books of 2017--Part One

Enjoy these best books lists from some of our church leaders and pastors.

Brian Wildman, elder

Here are my top four for 2017:

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance A well written memoir that also acts as an analysis of the culture of white working-class America.  

Glass House:  The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town by Brian Alexander After finishing Hillbilly Elegy, this was next on my list. Remarkable microcosm of the collapse of the American dream.  It helps give insight into American reality and politics.

A Pastor Prays for His People: A Collection of Wise and Loving Prayers to Help You through Life’s Journey by Wendell C. Hawley Written by one of our own. I’ve always loved Wendell’s congregational prayers. This book is a treasure.

The Law of Rewards: Giving What You Can’t Keep to Gain What You Can’t Lose by Randy Alcorn Great book on Christian stewardship. Alcorn makes the case that believers will receive differing rewards in heaven depending on their actions and choices here on earth.

Rob Wolgemuth, elder

The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson Finding Biblical truth (and anchoring) in the age-old debate between legalism and antinomianism. Hint: one does not counteract the other, rather union with Christ is the remedy for both. Very thought-provoking, spiritually encouraging and well-written book.

The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power by R.A. Torrey Practical, engaging and convicting words on how, why and what to pray. Torrey’s book How to Pray is also a great read. In both these two books, he was very direct about the state of the church and the need for prayer (and revival). Despite being a scholar; Torrey always wrote in an accessible, easy to read way.

Future Grace by John Piper (reading it now) I attended a Desiring God conference on this topic five years ago and was so impacted by it, I decided to read the actual book. A friend of mine at church also encouraged me to read it. It is incredibly well written, packed with rich theology and biblically saturated. This is an incredible book, it has changed the way I think about grace and faith (and other such topics).

Eric Channing, elder

 The Bible. This is #1, not just because I’m a pastor. This is my spiritual food, and life source. Truly the best book I read this year, and that’s why I re-read it every year.

The Doctrine of Repentance by Thomas Watson (A Puritan- first published in 1668): This book is a treasure. Watson provides us with much needed clarity in an age when this key doctrine is largely misunderstood and/or neglected.

Reset: Living a Grace Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, by David Murray. In this book, Murray provides tools for Christian men avoid burnout amidst the stresses and challenges of life. Some of my takeaways from this book were: Sleep more, schedule times to relax, and build your schedule for 80% capacity to allow for interruptions.

The Pastor & Counseling: The Basics of Shepherding Members in Need, by Jeremy Pierre & Depak Reju. This book gives helpful, practical tools for pastors who counsel others. A quick read that will I trust will benefit those I counsel in the future.

Grit: The Power of Passion & Perseverence, by Angela Duckworth. This book, written from a secular worldview, helps us understand the world’s understanding of success while debunking the view that “success” is due primarily to talent. There are some good principles to be learned about perseverance and hard work in this book, but the discerning Christian reader must infuse a Christ-centered, grace-filled worldview into this discussion to avoid a “try harder and you will succeed” mentality.

Julie Clemens, director of disability ministries

The Life We Never Expected

Ben Panner, college pastor

The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves

On the Incarnation by Athanasius

Zach Fallon, junior high pastor

Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John, Martyn Lloyd Jones Looking to be enriched as you study God's Word? This book is a compilation of sermons on 1 John by one of the great expository preachers of the 20th century.

George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father, Thomas Kidd A greatly-researched biography on the Englishman God used to stir up the spiritual conscience of America.

Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis I spent much of 2017 reading through these stories with my five-year-old son. He has been just about the perfect age for us to enjoy them together.